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Narratological Analysis of "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona"

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Narratological Analysis of "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" Essay

Sherman Alexie uses embedded analeptic narratives throughout the chapter “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” in Tonto and The Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven to emphasise the importance of both the characters memories and pasts on their lives. Embedded in the main chronological storyline, non-linear flashbacks follow Victor and Thomas’s pasts, showing their relationship to the present, since memory is activated by association with the present. By using a single narrative interspersed with flashbacks, Alexie frames the narrative like memory: prompted by free association, rather than always in a set chronologic order.

Victor’s childhood memories of his relationship with Thomas occur after he realizes he will need Thomas and his money to get to Phoenix. Victor “…held his head in his hands and thought about Thomas-Builds-The-Fire, remembered the little details, tears and scars, the bicycle the shared for a summer, so many stories” (Alexie 62). It’s clear Thomas and Victor’s past is causing Victor pain. After Victor and Thomas leave, another analeptic passage vividly reveals how Victor beat Thomas while he was drunk, “…Victor was really drunk and beat Thomas up for no reason at all” (65). Later in the central narrative, Victor apologizes to Thomas, saying “Yeah, but i’m still sorry” (67). The effect of Victor’s guilt is further exemplified by his memory shown by a second flashback of Thomas helping him escape a wasps nest when he was twelve. “He might have died there, stung a thousand times, if Thomas-Builds-The-Fire had not come by” (68). Victor’s flashbacks reveal how much this event still impacts his life as they speak to each other in the present main narrative, embedded analytic passages easily allow past moments of their troubled intertwined past relationship to be vibrantly put on display for the reader, elevating the importance of these past events.

Further analiptic flashbacks reveal Thomas-Builds-The-Fire and Victor’s childhood friendship to show what the significance of them taking a trip together and possibly repairing some sort of relationship means for them. A flashback to the fourth of july celebration reveals their early friendship.“Victor…Hurry up. We’re going to miss the fireworks” (62). and later growing apart “They hated Thomas for his courage, his brief moment as a bird” (70). The embedded analytic narrative here is used to give background information parallel to the central narrative. These memories of past occurrences are more significant as embedded narratives since the break from the frame interrupts the flow of the story and magnifies the importance of what happens in them. In these breaks from the main narrative Victor and Thomas’s past is the cause of their strained relationship inside the central chronological narrative. When in the main plotline “Victor was ashamed of himself. Whatever happened to the tribal ties, the sense of community?…He owed Thomas something, anything.”(74). This reaction is supported by what the reader saw in the flashbacks. Interspersed reflections in the form of analiptic flashbacks are a way of narration, used as as the means by which one can connect the past and present.

Later analeptic passages reveal the importance of Victor’s discordant relationship with his father and it’s effect on him though his life. In the central present narrative plotline, Victor must retrieve his father’s ashes and during the process comes to terms with his father’s past actions. The introduction to Victor’s father’s occurs through a memory, Victor reflects back to when Thomas told him how his father “…wants to run and hide. He doesn’t want to be found” (61). predicting his abandonment of Victor and his family. Another past description of Victor’s father is given by Thomas after Victor asks, “What do you remember?” (69). Thomas’s recalling the story of Victor’s father’s past kindness towards him allows for Victor to reflect. “Victor was quiet for a long time. He searched his mind for memories of his father, found the good ones, a few bad ones, added it all up, and smiled” (69). Revealing Victor’s father’s impact. The flashback here catalyzes the memories of Victor’s father, allowing for the reader to experience them, making them a larger, more real, lucid part of the story, just as they are in the characters minds.

Throughout the chapter, these embedded analytic flashbacks give a glimpse directly into characters past though each characters own reflection back on these events, creating a more direct connection emphasizing their importance in the present central narrative and thus on both Thomas and Victor’s present lives.

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Narratological Analysis of “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from
“Narratological Analysis of “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
Narratological Analysis of “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Feb. 2023].
Narratological Analysis of “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 26 [cited 2023 Feb 6]. Available from:
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